16 April 2024 03:12 PM



Gauri Lankesh and Shujaat Bukhari and We, the Media

The BJP MLA’s threat to Kashmiri scribes

At a time when journalists seem to have become fodder for insecure governments and legislators (witness the attack on scribes in Tamil Nadu under the AIADMK government), the role of the Editors Guild of India could not have been more important. Unfortunately, the organisation has lapsed for years really into deep lethargy, and an elitist mould whereby the condition of journalists becomes a matter for little more than a perfunctory statement.

In fact the Press Club of India, and the Womens Press Corps along with the small and yet busy Delhi Union of Journalists are far more vocal, and responsive to the increasing attack on scribes with the murders of Gauri Lankesh and now Shujaat Bukhari clearly intended to penetrate shock barriers. And make commonplace what was the uncommon till not so long ago, as can be seen in the difference in civil society response to the assassinations of Lankesh and Bukhari, both well known in their respective states Karnataka and Jammu and Kashmir; and both seeking to speak for justice and rights and peace.

In both cases there has been an attempt to defend the dastardly murder executed by men on motorcycles. In both cases the police released some CCTV footage of the men. In the case of Karnataka arrests have been made, in Kashmir the state government has fallen after the BJP withdrew support and also has the investigation, at least for now.

What is particularly sinister, however, is the effort to justify the assassinations not just by unidentified accounts on the social media, but by persons clearly wedded to the ruling establishment. Their voices sound loud in the deafening silence of the top persons in power, as well as top journalists who one would have expected to step out of the television studios on to the streets in protest. Fairly recently Sri Ram Sene Chief Pramod Muthalik, defending the Prime Minister’s silence on the issue, compared Lankesh to a dog. News reports and a video of Muthalik addressing his supporters showed him as asking why the PM should react “every time a dog dies in Karnataka.” The Congress and some opposition leaders responded, but there was hardly a word from august scribe bodies.

And now a BJP legislator has come out with a statement threatening journalists that they would meet the same fate as Shujaat Bukhari, if they did not draw a line in their reportage. Senior BJP leader Chaudhary Lal Singh who had been part of the controversial Kathua march that was perceived as a defense of those who had raped and brutalised the little Bakherwal girl Asifa, has now said in so many words, “Kashmiri journalists should draw a line on the journalism they do. Do they have to face (something) like what happened to Basharat (Bukhari) so that such a situation emerges. So mend your ways and draw a line, so that this brotherhood remains intact and there is progress.”

The Opposition in Kashmir has demanded his arrest. Kashmiri journalist bodies have strongly condemned the statement. But Delhi journalist organisations have still to react to the statement intended to strike fear, and paralyse the functioning of the media. The seriousness of the threat seems to have escaped, or is still being digested, by the Editors Guild comprising the seniormost journalists (including the editor of The Citizen). As has the realisation that the threat is not confined to Kashmir.

The statement is significant for another major, and perhaps even more significant, reason. Till now the common wisdom was that Bukhari, who had faced threats and attacks before, has been killed by the Lashkar e Taiba or one of the terrorist outfits from Pakistan. The LeT has strongly denied its role but here there were not many takers as this seemed to be the most plausible explanation for the shocking murder.

But the BJP MLA has fed into the perception that the responsibility for the assassination of the Rising Kashmir editor does not necessarily lie with the militants but with those hailing his death. And with those for whom the assassination has taken out a strong message to other scribes that the same fate lies in store with them, if they cross the lines that the legislator has referred to.

It is imperative thus for the BJP to clear the air. And assure scribes that those who are ruling the state under Governors rule now have no connection with the crime. And that this can be done only by acting against the BJP legislator in the manner proscribed by the Opposition instead of this grim silence that is hanging heavy over Indian democracy and freedoms.

(Shujaat Bukhari’s funeral in Srinagar. Cover Photograph BASIT ZARGAR)